ConservativeHome has an interesting set of ideas which might form part of the reform of Parliament and politics after the next election. It comes with the caveat that not all of these ideas are necessarily espoused by the editors. If the Conservative party is to run with the ball which might be labelled “The New Politics” these are just the sort of measures it must be seen to be promoting.

The powers of government

  • Public education of what the different layers of government – local, national and European – can achieve so that expectations are more accurately set.

I regard this as an essential tool in the education of our people concerning the nature of the European Union and the extent to which officials and others unelected by the British people now take decisions, promulgate decrees (known as ‘Directives’) and enforce laws. Similarly it will enable our people to understand better the comparative powers of the EU and our own Parliament. When this information is available to the people of the UK, it will help make the case for our withdrawal from the Union. In addition it will make the case easier for the next proposition to be achieved (see next item).

  • More decisions to be taken locally.

I believe that as much decision making as possible must be devolved to local authorities. These must not be large entities but should, as far as possible, be small and have elected officials as close to the citizen as possible.

  • A massive return of powers from Europe to Westminster.

Yes. But it must be understood that this is unlikely to prove in the least bit agreeable to the European Union which has not spent the last five years bulldozing its constitution past the peoples of Europe without them having their say upon it only to allow the power it has thus arrogated to itself to slip through its hands. Thus the Conservative Party must have the will to insist that the EU bow to the wishes of the people of the United Kingdom.

  • Much greater public scrutiny of appointments to quangoes and other publicly-funded bodies to prevent them being stuffed with inexperienced people with good political connections.

Yes. But this must be accompanied by (a) a genuine commitment to a bonfire of the quangoes and a return to administration by accountable central and local government; (b) a commitment to a wider degree of Parliamentary approval of officials in government and the civil service. If Ministers were forced to undergo hearings at which their CVs could be mulled over at length, we might get a better class of minister.

Better democracy at Westminster

  • A term limit for The Speaker.

No, under no circumstances. The fact that we have our first seriously defective Speaker in forty or so years should not be the basis for introducing a restriction of this nature. Rather Parliament must make a better effort at finding the right person for the job.

  • Radical reform of Prime Minister’s Question Time so that it delivers real accountability. If the PM doesn’t answer the question The Speaker should require him to do so.

Yes. All Cabinet ministers should be subjected to a Minister’s Question Time on the same basis. Since this is about Ministers being accountable to Parliament, questions directed at opposition policies should also be forbidden.

  • Fixed term parliaments so that Prime Ministers cannot manipulate the electoral cycle.

No. I am strongly against this idea upon which I posted here: http://tinyurl.com/2k6bes

  • Free (unwhipped) votes on any Bills that weren’t included in a party’s manifesto.

Yes. An excellent idea which can be achieved by introducing new Parliamentary rules with sanctions for contempt for those caught trying to whip on non-manifesto issues. The danger is that Manifestoes become mammoth documents as parties try to foresee any and every possible bit of legislation which they might

  • Stopping MPs from Scotland and Wales from voting on laws that only affect English constituents.

Yes. An essential requirement if the democratic deficit produced by devolution imposed without the consent of the people of England is to be corrected.

  • Seats of equal size so that an English voter has the same representation as a voter in Scotland or Wales.

Yes. Indeed I would go further and introduce a requirement that all constituencies be reorganised so that an Englishman’s vote is worth the same as a Scotsman’s or a Welshman’s and a country man’s vote is worth the same as an townsman’s.

  • Ban anyone from under the age of 30 working as researchers in Parliament. If their research staff had lived a little MPs might be better advised.

No. This might seem superficially attractive but is almost certainly unlawful. Rather encourage MPs to be more discriminating in their choices.

Behaviour, number and rewarding of MPs

  • Fewer MPs with bigger staffs so that they can afford to properly scrutinise legislation.

Yes. But this must be accompanied by root & branch reforms of the nature of employment of staff (e.g. employees to be employed directly by the Commons rather than by the MP), though I would not prevent family members from working for MPs.

  • Higher basic pay for MPs but fewer, smaller allowances.

Yes. To be accompanied by total openness of information on those expenses and allowances which continue to be paid.

  • All MPs’ expenses must be receipted, however small.

Yes. And to be available online in the same way as MSPs.

  • MPs should declare lunches paid for them by journalists.

No. Whilst one can see the point that is made, I consider this to be an excessive intrusion into the private life of both and a threat to the freedom of the press

  • A legal requirement for MPs who defect from the party they declared on the ballot paper on which they were elected to resign their seat within three months and seek re-election.

Yes. There was once a convention that Ministers had to resign upon appointment (Churchill once lost his seat as a result). This is similar requirement and one which would ensure that the will of a local majority is not subverted.

  • Replace internal disciplinary procedures for MPs with the threat of police investigation and punishment through the courts.

No. Parliament should be encouraged to have proper systems for disciplining members with the option of police involvement if there is any suggestion of criminality.


Party organisation

  • An end to state funding of political parties. If parties cannot raise the money directly from voters they don’t deserve to be in politics.

Yes. A ‘No Brainer’!

  • Eliminate all forms of positive discrimination in favour of women or ethnic minorities.

Yes.

  • Genuinely democratic internal elections so that all members have the decisive say in the selection of MPs and MEPs. CCHQ’s attempts to manipulate elections by, for example, actively encouraging Associations to choose ‘diversity candidates’, giving women automatic top slots in European elections and excluding members from the final rounds of constituency selections all should end.

Yes.

Constitutional innovations

  • US-style debates between leading politicians.

No. This will inevitably lead to a more presidential style of politics and will undermine parliamentary democracy.

  • The introduction of binding consultations rather than the sham exercises currently dominant.

Yes. If only to prevent Government from treating such things as the road-pricing petition with contempt.

  • Parliament to hold an annual referendum on one big issue of national importance: Our membership of the EU, an English Parliament, the replacement of income tax with green and other taxes, our troop deployments in Iraq.

No. This is a gimmick.

Other

  • Tougher eligibility criteria for postal voting to cut fraud.

Yes.

  • The BBC and other media outlets to talk more about policy issues and less about how announcement x and y will affect the outcome of the next election.

No. Unenforceable. Rather there should be a clearer expression in the BBC’s charter and the legal status of other broadcasters of the requirement of impartiality that goes beyond merely having representatives of all major parties having their say. Thus lefty producers would be prevented from having characters in, say, ‘Holby City’ complaining about ‘Tory cuts’ or a character in the Archers advancing a particular government policy. Also redistribution of the licence fee to be introduced.


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